Wimbledon atmosphere is ‘weird’

MARIA SHARAPOVA feels something special is “missing” from Wimbledon this year, but has every intention of gracing Centre Court again on finals day.

The 2004 champion got her first taste of the showpiece venue without its roof when she disposed of stubborn Frenchwoman Severine Bremond in straight sets to book her place in the third round.

As the All England Club undertake a substantial redevelopment programme, it will be another 12 months before the famous arena is returned to something like its former glory.

That cannot come soon enough for the 20-year-old number two seed.

“It is like someone took off the torch from the Statue of Liberty, or the arc from the Arc de Triomphe,” quipped the Russia, currently ranked second in the world.

“It is my favourite court to play on, but it’s definitely so weird, the atmosphere. It’s missing that little touch, missing that something that I think all the players love to see.

“It’s not just about the roof – it’s the whole feeling of it.”

The 2004 champion produced some superb tennis as she breezed through the opening set 6-0, before then having to maintain focus to eventually see off the challenge of the world number 37 6-4 in an hour and 17 minutes.

Sharapova produced a fairytale victory at the All England Club three years ago when she swept all before her as a teenager.

Since then, the young Russian has gone on to claim the world number one spot as well as the 2006 US Open title.

Provided her injury problems to not flare up again, this could yet be another vintage year for the girl from Siberia with the sunshine smile.

“I’m physically a lot fitter than I was back then when I won it,” she said.

“I have the confidence on the court when I’m in those tough situations and I’m able to dig it out, not just mentally but physically as well.

“So, yeah, that gives me a lot of confidence.”

Sharapova will face Japan’s Ai Sugiyama, the 26th seed, for a place in the last 16.

While the Russian knows things will only “get tougher from here”, she feels comfortable with her progress.

“It’s a different year in different circumstances, so it’s really hard to compare, but I’m definitely confident,” Sharapova said.

“I know it’s only going to get tougher from here – but as long as I keep going out there and enjoying myself as much as I’ve been doing in the last couple matches, I’ll be fine.’’

There were also wins for holder Amelie Mauresmo, Ana Ivanovic, Venus Williams and fifth seed Svetlana Kuznetsova.

France’s defending champion Mauresmo made short work of her second-round tie, beating Austria’s Yvonne Meusburger 6-1 6-2 in under an hour on Court Two.

Should the pair progress, Mauresmo will face Sharapova in the semi-final.

Meanwhile, French Open runner-up Ivanovic secured her place in the last 32 with a hard-fought 6-4 6-3 win over Meilen Tu.

Her next match will be against France’s Aravane Rezai, who ousted Italian 29th seed Francesca Schiavone 6-4 2-6 6-4.

Three-time champion Venus Williams enjoyed a comfortable 6-2 6-2 victory over Czech Hana Sromova on Court One.

Slovakian 10th seed Daniela Hantuchova had to dig deep to beat Russian Elena Likhovtseva 7-5 7-6 (7-3).

There was also easy progress for fifth seed Kuznetsova in the next match on that court. The Russian saw off unseeded American Bethanie Mattek 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 to advance.

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